Our alumni spotlight series highlights stories from former Jumpstart Corps members as they reflect on their time with Jumpstart and discuss how the experience has served them in their current careers. Do you have a story to share? Want to make sure that you don’t miss any important stories or news for alumni? Join the Jumpstart Alumni Network to connect with fellow alum, stay connected to Jumpstart, and find new ways to stay involved in early education.
Out of all the elements of Jumpstart session, Circle Time always brought the most joy and rewards to Jumpstart alumna Stephanie Orozco’s partner children. As a team leader, Stephanie wasn’t afraid of being silly in the preschool classroom. In fact, she believed it was an essential part of being an engaging and present instructor.
“After having worked on social-emotional and language skills with children throughout session, Circle Time always felt like the most powerful moment of the day,” Stephanie said. As everyone would gather in a circle on the rug to share what they learned and sing songs together, “the kids would always be excited for the chance to hang out with Corps members and other children,” says Stephanie. “It was a nice communal moment that made me see the value of Jumpstart and made me want to be part of more early interventions like it.”
As a student at UC Berkeley, Stephanie didn’t discover Jumpstart until her senior year, but it was her experiences leading up to that point that gave her the confidence and skills to be an effective team leader. For three years, she worked as a tutor and site director for Berkeley United in Literacy Development (BUILD), helping mentor and develop the literacy skills of local elementary students.
“I wasn’t sure about which age group I’d serve until I found Jumpstart, which was what really put me on track to believing that early interventions are key.”
“I fell into education work like a lot of people in college, not knowing what to do,” Stephanie said. “As a linguistics major, I was interested in speech therapy for a while, but I was drawn to being in the classroom. BUILD helped me realize I wanted to do education-focused and social justice-oriented work. I just wasn’t sure about which age group I’d serve until I found Jumpstart, which was what really put me on track to believing that early interventions are key.”
After graduating from Berkeley, Stephanie joined Reading Partners as a site coordinator to work with third and fourth graders on their literacy skills. During that time, however, she saw the need for earlier interventions for those students and found herself wanting to return to the early childhood space. Stephanie now works as a preschool teacher at Providence Saint John’s Hospital Center in Santa Monica, teaching children between 3.5 to 5 years old and also leading a supplemental art class during afternoons.
“Jumpstart helped me narrow my focus on early childhood interventions,” she said. “As someone who is constantly looking for developmental milestones and any signs of what else I can do for children, Jumpstart has helped me become a more intentional teacher. I enter lesson plans knowing why I’m doing activities and knowing what to expect from my children. Because of Jumpstart, I’m constantly evaluating my curriculum.”
As a working preschool teacher, Stephanie understands the challenges facing her peers in the field and those looking to begin careers in early childhood education. Privately funded preschools often lack curriculum or classroom standards to help teachers develop outcomes-based practices. Public perception of preschool also falls behind what experts now know about the importance of early learning.
“The biggest challenge for preschool teachers is people not being aware of how important this time is in every child’s life, particularly for those who may not have access to high-quality classrooms and materials.”
“Unfortunately, a lot of people see preschool as just playtime or daycare and see preschool teachers as babysitters,” she said. “The biggest challenge for preschool teachers is people not being aware of how important this time is in every child’s life, particularly for those who may not have access to high-quality classrooms and materials. Those things make a difference and more awareness is required so that teachers get the respect they deserve.”
As an aspiring leader in the early education field, Stephanie is considering many possibilities for the future, whether it’s working as a supervisor of Head Start programs, leading teacher trainings, or working with the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to help create high-quality preschools in under-resourced communities. At the moment, however, she wants to continue learning the ins and outs of working in the classroom.
“This is definitely not my last stop, but the classroom experience is really what I want for a couple more years,” she said. “Anyone with leadership or jurisdiction over preschool classrooms should have experience at the ground level.”